from the always-interesting Bill Henderson at Indiana: http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202600579767&slreturn=20130420151451
Maybe it’s just me, but the essay reminded me of Woody Allen and Annie Hall: Commenting on their relationship, and noting that a shark must keep moving or die, Annie (or was it Woody?) says “what we have here is a dead shark.”
Great law schools, like sharks, always keep moving.
Yesterday, I posted on the employment measures issue and the Northwestern advantage. The focus was, naturally, on our law school; however, there is general point embedded in my comment which I would like to make more explicit: Efforts to rank schools on a narrow set of criteria have the unavoidable flaw of conflating a number of factors into a “one size fits all” rubric. Obvious point, to be sure, but one that bears notice when we hop on — even if briefly — into one or another ranking fad.
Consider the Above the Law rankings of law schools by employment, now enjoying its fifteen minutes of fame in the blogosophere. The measure here is a job for which a JD is required. I have already spoken about how this undervalues Northwestern. The difficulty which the rankings cuts deeper, however. There are surely law schools which produce students who have a range of choices in non-legal settings — not necessarily because that is the focus of a specific element of the program (as it is with the JD/MBA program at Northwestern and some other schools), but because the market in the area where many of the students congregate has a particularly robust employment situation there. For example, Loyola L.A. law school has a well-regarded sports & entertainment law focus. Surely there are positions in the sports & entertainment world in So Cal, some positions non-legal, available for grads of Loyola. On the other end of the country, NGO’s and other organizations in the nation’s capital might provide employment opportunities for so-called “non-elite” schools in Washington DC and the Northeast corrider.
Law students go to law school to practice law, the editors of ATL proclaim. Surely there is much to that slogan. But law students go to particular law schools for a myriad of reasons. The central choices about law school versus not-law school involve not only considerations of whether lucrative legal employment beacons, but about what is the tradeoff between pursuing a legal education for the purpose of advancing one’s employment goals in a broader sense and saving this money, creating credentials of different sorts, and entering the non-legal job market in earnest.
To be sure, many (perhaps even most) of these pursuits will be a second best, and maybe a distant one, to legal employment. And I make no pronouncements here at all about whether the investment is or is not worth it. That’s an important conversation, but a different one. Rather, the question here is whether efforts to craft a ranking that is centered on employment measures captures either the objectives of one or another law school on the one hand and the objectives of law students who will consider going to that law school on the other.
U.S. News rankings, for all their many, many flaws, looks at a wide variety of factors. And, with respect to employment, captures a larger set of criteria (although it would be more useful if Bob Morse were more transparent about the exact criteria). Efforts to shoehorn one key criterion — in the case of ATL, employment in legal jobs — conveys misinformation and foments, rather than alleviates, confusion.
When evaluating employment outcomes, much of the talk in the media and blogosphere has focused solely on positions that require a law degree and/or bar passage, implying that these are the only positions relevant to prospective law students or desirable for law school graduates. A recent ranking featured on Above the Law specifically disparaged non-legal jobs, saying that such non-legal jobs are, as the verse goes, “butchers, or bakers, or candle-stick makers.” Whatever merits such a description has for law schools whose graduates pursue non-legal careers not equivalent in any significant sense to purely jobs, this is not a fair or accurate way to measure Northwestern. Eliminating non-legal employment from the equation, as the ATL ranking, extensive commentary by the Law School Transparency Project, and observations elsewhere conspicuous in the media and blogosphere, is not appropriate in the case of Northwestern. Doing so fails to capture the uniqueness of our program and to account for our many graduates who, by choice, seek and obtain prestigious jobs in the business sector.
Take, for example, our renowned JD-MBA program.
Lawyers in the modern economy increasingly are called upon to work across international jurisdictions, to develop responsible practices within complex regulatory frameworks, and to lead multi-disciplinary teams. In 2001, Northwestern Law School, together with the Kellogg School of Management, created the nation’s first 3-year JD-MBA program as one way to meet this emerging need. With approximately 25 graduates each year, it is now the largest and most successful program of its kind. Its alumni number almost 500 and most now occupy leadership positions at law firms, businesses, and nonprofits. And many began their careers in business, not law.
When they graduate, half of our JD-MBA students pursue law-related jobs and half pursue jobs in business – most often in high-paying and highly-coveted jobs with prominent consulting firms, accounting firms, investment banks, venture capital firms, and other well-known corporations (sometimes referred to as “JD Advantage” positions). Those who decide on legal practice are sought by many of the nation’s leading law firms because of their expanded education and perspectives and their previous management experience. In some cases, our JD-MBA students ultimately decide between options and offers from employers in both sectors. Nearly every year, even during the downturn, 100% of the program’s graduates have secured permanent employment within 9 months of graduation.
The JD-MBA students who embark on business-related careers–where a JD might not be specifically required, but is nonetheless invaluable–comprise about 5% of our total graduates each year (6% in 2012). Further, because of our strong relationship with the Kellogg School of Management and the synergies that exist for all students, another 3%-4% of our overall JD students typically succeed in obtaining similar jobs immediately upon graduation. Therefore, any attempts by external sources to compare law schools solely on jobs that require a law degree fail to capture this sizeable and highly successful cohort of students.
Here are some examples: During the past three years, our JD-MBA graduates accepted positions at companies such as Altman Vilandrie & Company, AON, Bain & Company, Barclays Capital, Boston Consulting Group, Cerberus Capital Management, Citi, Deutsche Bank, Driehaus Capital Management, Glencore International, Goldman Sachs, Harvard Management Company, Intercontinental Hotels, Lazard Middle Market, L.E.K. Consulting, Marakon, McKinsey & Company, Metropolitan Bank, Monitor Group, Morgan Stanley, Pacific Alternative Asset Management Company (PAAMCO), PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Siemens Energy, Solar Capital, SumZero, Tishman Speyer, TomorrowVentures, Vitera Healthcare Solutions, William Blair, and UBS.
It is equally important to consider career trajectory – not just the first job – for history shows that great success lies ahead for most who obtain a Northwestern JD or JD-MBA. Focusing solely on our JD-MBA alumni, here is a sampling of what some of them are doing now.
- 49 law firm partners
- 55 law firm associates
- 37 Corporate Counsel (Assistant, Associate General Counsel, Corporate Counsel, Tax Counsel)
- 46 Presidents, CEOs, Chairmen, Owners, Founders
- 75 Vice Presidents, Managing Directors, Managing Partners, Principals, CFOs, COOs, CIOs, etc.
- 32 Unit/Department Directors or Executive Directors
- 5 Professors
- 1 Mayor
- 1 Judge
So is non-legal employment relevant at Northwestern Law? Absolutely. Our many students and alumni who have secured these kinds of jobs would agree. That’s the Northwestern advantage and that’s something to compare.
The handwriting on the wall is revealed nicely in the first sentence of this article: 30 different law profs, 30 different answers about how best to reform legal education. The ideas range from narrow and specific to broad and radical.
What is interesting from a pure process perspective is that this task force is created under the aegis of the “big” ABA, not the Section on Legal Education. In other words, this group has a broad mandate from the larger association of American lawyers to delve into the current situation and to come forward with ideas and initiatives for consideration by the ABA. My prediction, and it is only that: If significant proposals emerge, they will gain traction at least in the public eye. And if the organization that has traditionally dealt with law school regulation — The Section, not the larger group — does not pursue these proposals in earnest, there will be serious tensions within the ABA.
All that said, the core matter is how best to gather input and evaluate ideas about our flawed system. There should be candid, strategic thinking from a variety of quarters. I welcome the good work and thinking of the Task Force (although I confess to a bit of anxiety about exactly what they will come up with!).
This is a letter that I, and a large number of distinguished legal educators, signed and sent to the ABA’s Task Force on legal education reform. The letter speaks for itself. It is a call for renewed attention and energy to be devoted to addressing systemic problems in legal education. These problems involve the economic model of legal education and also the structure of training we provide.
Although the particular audience for this letter is the Task Force, it is really intended to spur debate among folks inside and outside the legal academy. We welcome this debate as it can only help advance the ball.
I was pleased to speak before a reception at Northwestern Law organized by the Hispanic Bar Association of Illinois. Kudos to Quarles & Brady for their help in sponsoring this gathering.
I commented about what I see to be some sobering implications of the structural changes in the legal employment market on the fate of minority lawyers, especially those just beginning their profession. Some of the specific threats include the turning away from mentoring of young lawyers of color as the demands of clients and the economic bottom line of large and, perhaps especially, small, law firms increase. Mentoring, along with pro bono service, becomes viewed as a luxury when firms face economic pressures. That has become a common result in recessionary periods; and there is every reason to believe that this will be a consequence of more structural adjustments.
Moreover, the declining job market impacts — in many cases, imperils — opportunities for students without dependable financial means. To be more blunt, growing student debt affects those most vulnerable in the economic shakeout. The imperative of dealing with student debt and the high costs of legal education is a matter of increasing attention and properly so. I only offer, in what I hope is a rather obvious way, the thought that this acute condition impacts in particular ways students of color. Thus, the diversity of the legal profession is one more thing at stake when we consider reform.
No magic answer to the problem, to be sure. But there is a great value to acknowledging that this is a potential problem and that solving it requires strategic choices and constructive partnerships between the academy and the bar.
. . . excitement about what lurks ahead of us. We have a number of significant events and programs at the Law School. I urge you to check the Law School calendar for specific information.
For those of who completing your law studies this semester, I hope you see light at the end of the tunnel. There are difficult dynamics in the contemporary legal marketplace to be sure, but I trust that you will put your excellent Northwestern education to fruitful use in your legal career. For those who continue to work hard on securing employment following graduation, please do work with our Career Strategy office. They are here to help you.
For those who are beginning their second semester at Northwestern, congratulations on the successful completion of your first semester of law school. You have turned an important page and we wish you the best as you move to the next challenge.
And best wishes, of course, to all the rest of you, wherever you are in your Northwestern career. We all have much to be grateful for as we begin 2013. I know I am grateful for the opportunity to lead this terrific law school and to work with this remarkable community on improving legal education and in tacklng the challenges facing us in this complex legal economy.